Donald Brown has bided his time this season as the Indianapolis Colts elevated Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson to the team’s No. 1 running back position.
A first-round draft pick in 2009, Brown was pushed to the Colts’ third-string spot and a role on special teams because of inconsistent performances. But injuries to Ballard (knee) and Bradshaw (neck), along with a struggling Richardson, have given the former University of Connecticut standout another chance to show observers, and more than a few doubters, what he can do if given the opportunity.
After impressing the coaching staff with his attitude and with some good performances off the bench earlier this year, Brown made his first start of the season Sunday against AFC South rival Tennessee. He didn’t disappoint.
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound running back scored the only touchdown for the Colts and had a team-high 54 yards in 14 carries in a 22-14 win. While the Indianapolis running attack has been a question mark for most of the season, Brown picked up 46 of his yards on the team’s next-to-last possession of the game.
He produced when the Colts needed it the most, with the game on the line and the outcome very much in doubt.
“The offensive line did a great job, and when our number is called, that was a challenge to us. We needed to grind the clock out. We needed to score a touchdown. That’s what you practice for. That’s what your mindset has to be if you want to be a successful running team,” Brown said Monday.
“It doesn’t matter who [the opponent puts] in the box. Sometimes you got to, if they have an extra defender, the running back has got to make somebody miss.”
Sitting back and watching the team continue to bring in other running backs had to provide a few doubts about his chances to ever be a full-time performer for the Colts again. But Brown disagrees.
“The more weapons this team has, the better a team will be. I knew regardless of what happened, my number would get called in some form or fashion. When it is, just make the most of it,” he said.
He has certainly done that. Despite not getting a whole lot of playing time through the first 12 games of the season, Brown leads the team in rushing with 378 yards. He also is tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (4) with quarterback Andrew Luck.
According to Brown, having a good dose of patience is the key.
“With the run game, you have to be patient. Just like [Sunday], we didn’t have many yards rushing [through the first three quarters]. Probably the fourth quarter, we really started to get some chunk yards. That’s just .the way the run game is,” he points out.
“You have to stay patient, stay the course and the runs will come.”
Coach Chuck Pagano certainly appreciates what Brown has provided this season as a team leader.
“He’s a great pro. He’s reliable. He’s accountable. Did a great job all day long, especially on that last drive,” Pagano voiced.
• Injury update — Running back Daniel Herron will be sidelined for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the second quarter of the Tennessee game.
Herron will be placed on injured reserve. Recently signed Chris Rainey, who handled punt and kickoff returns against the Titans, will see more work on offense.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois will be out for two to four weeks after incurring a plantar fascia tear in his left foot against the Titans. Fili Moala will take over as a starter for the Colts while Francois recovers.
Offensive guard/tackle Jeff Linkenbach, who started the Tennessee game at right guard for former starter Mike McGlynn, suffered a torn quad muscle. Linkenbach is listed as week to week and his status for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati has not been determined. McGlynn would most likely return to the starting lineup.
Cornerbacks Greg Toler (groin) and Josh Gordy (groin), along with inside linebacker Kavell Conner (ankle), are expected back at practice on Wednesday. Toler and Gordy have both been sidelined since the Colts’ Oct. 20 win over Denver. Conner, meanwhile, has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain that he suffered in practice.
• DHB status up in the air — Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey’s struggles have continued and he may be pushed down the depth chart a bit.
Heyward-Bey failed to come up with a pass in the third quarter despite being all by himself down the right sideline. According to NFL stats, the veteran has only five dropped passes this season. But they all seem to have come at key junctures of games.
Pagano was asked if Heyward-Bey will remain in the Colts offensive lineup. His response was lukewarm at best.
“We’ve got four guys that are up at the receiver position, so we’re going to do what’s best for this team and gives us the best chance to win moving forward,” the Indianapolis coach said.
Undrafted rookie receiver Da’Rick Rogers got his first amount of playing time since being brought up from the practice squad three weeks ago. While Rogers didn’t catch a pass, he drew a pass interference penalty that set up an Adam Vinatieri field goal.
“When you saw Da’Rick come off the line of scrimmage and run right by a pretty damn good corner and draw that flag, you get excited about what the future holds,” Pagano said, adding that rookie inside linebacker Josh McNary and Rainey also caught his eye.
“Those guys have worked really hard, prepared and it was great to see them go out there and have some success. I think Josh got plenty of play on special teams and did a nice job. And then the three plays that he got on defense, the one third down we sent him on the blitz and he made the running back miss and certainly affected the throw of that ball down the middle. It was a great athletic football play. So, very exciting to see those guys going.”